World Bicycle Relief (WBR) mobilizes people through “The Power of Bicycles.” They envision a world where distance is no longer a barrier to independence and livelihood. Stella’s story is an inspirational snapshot from WBR about a recipient of one of their bicycles.
In most African countries, if a school girl becomes pregnant she is harshly judged, and the stigma that follows can lead to depression and feelings of failure. Stella’s is a story of determination to overcome stereotypes. She breathes life into her aspirations. Stella proves pregnancy isn’t a permanent condition, but that a girl in her position can excel – even become a role model for her community.
Nineteen-year-old Stella is full of life and she has great ambition. She is currently studying in a secondary school in Western Kenya, but three years ago, Stella faced a barrage of challenges.
“When I was approaching my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (school testing),” Stella shares, “I gave birth to my daughter. I stayed at home to breastfeed. My father was a drunkard, a polygamist. He considered my step-mother more than my mother.” Stella’s education was halted, and her hopes dimmed. But Stella, guided by determination, re-wrote her exams, passed, and continued to high school.
Now, a single mother, Stella cares for her two-year-old daughter while continuing her studies. With more maturity than her classmates, Stella takes on more responsibilities, like serving as Secretary of Sports at school. Meanwhile, the distance she covers to reach school is the longest of any of her peers – 12 kilometers each way!
Stella used to begin her day at three o’clock in the morning. She woke up, nurtured her daughter and completed her expected chores, and then she would set off for school on foot. Now that Stella has a Buffalo Bicycle, she is able to begin her morning routine two hours later each day.
For Stella, her bicycle is more than just a means of transport or a time-saving tool. It’s also a form of security. The daily route Stella travels to school is unsafe for girls her age – especially at dawn or after dusk. Traveling in the dark used to frighten Stella. “The path I walked to school passes a stand of motorbike riders. They want favors, my contact number, or to learn where I come from. I don’t talk to them.” When walking, Stella had to be vigilant and on-guard. She had to reject these overtures, which were sometimes laced with gifts, such as a ride to school in exchange for sexual favors.
As Stella asserts, “With the bicycle, I feel safe. I cycle past the motorbike operator’s sheds, and I’m not worried about them stopping me.”
Stella’s mother is also filled with gratitude for Stella’s bicycle, “My daughter can now confidently cycle past the sugar cane cutters, who have always had the tendency of sexually harassing young girls and women who they come across.”
With enhanced efficiency in performing her chores, Stella’s bicycle is also sparking innovation. She plans to start transporting extra goods from her garden and fetching water for neighbors. The money she hopes to earn will help with her school fees. Stella reflects, “Distance never kept me from school, it was the lack of school fees. Going to school has become fun for me. I never want to miss one day,” says Stella.
Stella tells us her aunt is her role model. “She encourages me to work hard, because of everything I want,” she says, “including money for my brother’s school fees.” Stella aspires to become a Commercial Attaché (Embassy Ambassador). “I would like to deal with business and trade matters outside of my country to promote Kenya as a diplomat.” Stella’s position as a student representative in her school’s Bicycle Supervisory Committee should look good on her resume for this position.
Stella’s story embodies the struggles that teenage mothers in rural Africa overcome to continue their education. Every day when Stella bids her daughter goodbye, hops on her bike, and rides to school; she says it is the thought of her daughter that inspires her. It is Stella’s daughter who strengthens her resolve to study and work hard, in order to actualize her dreams for their future.
Photos, from top to bottom: 1. Stella and her daughter, 2. Stella leaving for school, 3. Stella riding her bicycle, 4. Stella with other students.